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Signatures turned in on police deadly force initiative in Wash.

Right now, an officer in Washington can’t be convicted of a crime for using deadly force if he or she acted in good faith and without malice


By Joseph O'Sullivan
The Seattle Times

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Supporters for Initiative 940 turned in signatures Thursday for what is likely to become a heated debate over whether it should be easier in Washington state to prosecute law-enforcement officers for alleged misuse of deadly force.

After speeches and a demonstration march through the drizzle, more than 100 supporters of De-Escalate WA handed in boxes of petitions at the Secretary of State’s Office .

Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was killed by police in 2016, yells as he leads others to a vigil outside where a pregnant mother was shot and killed Sunday by police, Tuesday, June 20, 2017 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was killed by police in 2016, yells as he leads others to a vigil outside where a pregnant mother was shot and killed Sunday by police, Tuesday, June 20, 2017 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“This really is a good day,” Tim Reynon, vice-chair of the campaign and Puyallup Tribal Councilman, told those gathered. But, with the families of several victims in the audience, he acknowledged, “It’s a bittersweet day.”

Community advocates have argued Washington’s current law — considered the nation’s most limiting for holding officers accountable for unjustified use of deadly force — is overdue for a change.

Right now, an officer can’t be convicted of a crime for using deadly force if he or she acted in good faith and without malice, or what the law calls “evil intent.”

More than 100 demonstrators march in downtown Olympia to the Washington Secretary of State’s office to hand in signatures for I-940, which would change how Washington treats officers for misusing deadly force (Joseph O’Sullivan / The Seattle Times).

That makes it nearly impossible for prosecutors to bring criminal charges even if they find an officer committed a wrongful killing, according to a 2015 report by The Seattle Times.

De-Escalate’s policy director, Leslie Cushman, said this week the group hoped to submit about 360,000 signatures — far above the 260,000 required to put the measure before the Legislature next year.

I-940 would change the law to a more detailed, multipart threshold that considers what a “reasonable officer” might have done under the circumstances. It would also take into account an officer’s intentions to determine if she or he acted in good faith.

The initiative also requires more de-escalation and mental-health training for law- enforcement officers.

If state lawmakers don’t approve I-940 during their 2018 session, the initiative will go before voters later in the year.

If legislators approved an amended version of the initiative, both proposals would go to the election ballot.

The effort comes as high-profile shootings including the deaths in Seattle of Che Taylor and Charleena Lyles by white officers of African Americans and other minorities in recent years have underscored concerns about law enforcement.

Family members of several victims of police shootings have been involved in the campaign, including Che’s brother Andrè, who chairs De-Escalate Washington.

The campaign spent about $860,000 in its signature-gathering effort, according to state records.

That includes a $100,000 donation by Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who has spent heavily in recent years on ballot measures for gun safety and a higher minimum wage.

Native American tribes also donated to the campaign, including $175,000 by the Puyallup Tribe, and several labor unions also contributed.

Law-enforcement groups have protested changes to the deadly-force statute. They say the new legal standard could prompt officers to hesitate in ways that could endanger themselves and others.

“Unfortunately, this initiative will not do anything to reduce violent interactions between law enforcement and the public,” said Teresa Taylor, executive director for the Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs, which represents more than 4,300 law- enforcement officers.

Success in the legislative session that begins in January appears unlikely.

Lawmakers this year couldn’t find a compromise that satisfied both law enforcement and community activists.

“We’re still stuck there,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland and chair of the House Public Safety Committee.

©2017 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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